Joan Didion’s California


via L.A. Times.


The sequence is as predictable as the season itself: The calendar reads “fall” but the thermometer registers 90-plus. The Santa Ana winds kick up. Wildfires zipper across the landscape. Once again Joan Didion whispers in the Southland’s collective ear.

“I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too,” she writes in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” “We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. … To live with the Santa Ana is to accept, consciously or unconsciously, a deeply mechanistic view of human behavior.”

Novelists, essayists and poets, photographers and painters have all evoked the region in its inscrutability and calamity, but Didion’s measured cadence is embedded in our consciousness. Tropes become burrs. We come to her for dusty palms, pepper trees, eucalyptus, the “soft westerlies off the Pacific,” but also the concrete overpasses, cyclone fencing and deadly oleander.

It’s home. The truth of it. Hot pavement under our feet. She has written hauntingly about disasters — both acts of God and man-made mayhem, from runaway wildfires to Charles Manson — that have rewritten the narrative of this place. Pared down: For many she articulates California’s particular seasons, a West that is as recognizable as it is changeable.

to read the  rest of the review click here 

Mirages and Myths

L.A.’s Dazzling Rise 90

By Lynell George

via L.A. Times

Most longtime Angelenos learned early to read between the lines.

Los Angeles has been both elevated and suffocated by the strength of its legends — about the promise or calamity of this place. These stories are rooted, of course, in a deep history of civic boosterism — real estate narratives, spleen-venting newspaper columns and all manner of quick-money speculators. Those enticements, while inventions, have long legs and the sort of staying power that continues to shape conversation and sense of place, both inside, and out of, city limits.

As summer wanes and waves of travelers looking for that Los Angeles — of orange crate vistas and Hollywood art direction — make their last loop, the season calls for a history refresher course about Los Angeles, this city that bloomed out of the desert.

Gary Krist’s “The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination and the Invention of Los Angeles” (now in paperback), tunnels to the roots of these invention narratives, identifying the individual threads, and shows how they began to work in tandem to create a fantastic tapestry.


You can read the rest of  the review here at

The Queen

‘The Queen’ was kidnapper and a grifter — but her welfare scam made her a symbol

By Lynell George/ Via L.A. Times



“While Taylor the person was a mere shadow, her infractions were writ large, cast in bullet points pulled from Sherwin’s case files. Bliss included them in his article: “Goes under at least 27 different names;  Uses 31 different address . . . Has 25 different phone numbers…”

The article would be one in a series that  Bliss would file on the subject. In this third follow piece about Taylor’s “larceny,” and public aid’s incompetencies — Bliss chooses a particularly resonant and indelible  identifier: “‘Linda Taylor, the 47-year-old ‘welfare queen.’ ”

The story would snowball, becoming part of the national conversation. Most significantly, however, the term “Welfare Queen” would wind itself into the lexicon. Most famously, it would become a racially coded dog whistle that former California governor and newly minted presidential candidate Ronald Reagan would invoke — and exaggerate — as a way of eliciting emotion and rallying constituents’ support in the deepest part of the conservative south. “[Reagan] made it clear that the federal government was preventing the country from reaching its true potential,” Levin writes, “but this unnamed woman in Chicago — she was the enemy too.”


You can read the rest here:

After/Image is here …


My new book of essays and photographs, After/Image: Los Angeles Outside the Frame made the L.A. Times Bestsellers List on 4/8 (and charted #1 on Vroman’s Bookstore hardcover nonfiction list — bottom left).

I will be signing books at the Los Angeles Times Festival. I will be at the Angel City Press Booth (No. 119, near Tommy Trojan) 4/21f rom 12 to 2pm and on 4/22 from 2 to 4pm.

I will also be participating on a panel: “Photography & Narrative” Sunday afternoon from 12:30 to 1:30pm.

For tickets and more Festival information click here.

Louisiana in Los Angeles: How New Orleans Jazz Traveled to California

By Lynell George via Los Angeles Review of Books

“GOLD MIGHT BE  hiding in plain sight; some small stowaway that’s been overlooked, or somehow dislodged, knocked into plain view. I’m always hoping for some sliver of a remnant.

I knew better, but I tossed my notebook and camera into the car anyway and threaded out the driveway. A few years back, sparked by a couple of sentences I couldn’t shake, I slipped out just after dawn for a little Sunday morning ghost chasing. I’d gotten midway through Howard Reich and William Gaines’s vivid 2003 biography: Jelly’s Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton, my imagination adrift in the descriptions of Morton’s rollicking Los Angeles years. The broadcasting-24-hour Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe Morton (better known as Ferd or simply ‘Jelly Roll’) was his own sky-sweeping searchlight and publicity department; Los Angeles was just another stop along the frenzied nonstop press tour that was his entire life. As the self-proclaimed ‘inventor of jazz,’ Morton, despite his ornate yet delicate polyphonic piano stylings, was as much a genius as he was bombastic.

The reporter in me wanted more. The night before, I’d dashed out a couple of addresses and some approximations based on the narrative’s descriptions, and had them at the ready when I snaked south down the 110 Freeway to Central Avenue. I wasn’t aiming for the area we Angelenos consider ‘Jazz Street,’ but a corridor further north, closer to downtown’s heart . . . . 

But what I wanted to understand most: What did he and so many see when they arrived here, tired but exhilarated, finally unburdened of their pasts? What was their first glimpse? How did California suit them? How did it find its way into their creative imagination, their melodies?”


To read more click here to visit LARB

An L.A. Daybook

Check it out . . .

I’m happy to announce my new (and very first) chapbook, “Shifting Tenses”  from the wonderful Writ Large Press, Founded in 2007 by Chiwan Choi, Peter Woods,  Judeth Oden Choi and Jessica Ceballos, the press’ mandate has been to publish, connect  and promote overlooked writers across the region — and beyond.  A limited number of copies will be available today at L.A. Zine Fest in downtown Los Angeles.

If you’re not able to make it downtown,  you can still order it directly from Writ Large by clicking over  here.


O, Pioneers

O, Pioneers: Dana Johnson explores the remaking of L.A.’s historic core

In her latest collection of stories, the associate professor of English explores a wide range of experiences unique to the City of Angels.

via USC Dornsife

By Lynell George

Here in Los Angeles, you learn early and often: Screen magic trumps real life.



Here in Los Angeles, you learn early and often: Screen magic trumps real life.

Writer and professor Dana Johnson was reminded of that prickly coexistence on a recent afternoon. Wandering into Union Station, she found it a-swarm. Not teeming with commuting Bunker Hill suits nor the downtown Arts District’s new guard, but rather the entire lounge space swallowed up by a buzzing film crew: cables, lights, scrims and steel barricades. “You can sit,” a disembodied voice rebuffed all in approach, “but don’t move.”

She made a beeline, into the courtyards at the edges of the station. Stashed in a hidden corner, Johnson happened upon a small bronze plaque commemorating the terminal’s 50-year anniversary in 1989: “Through the portals of this historic edifice have passed the great and near-great.”

Johnson’s fiction has long examined those edges — animating the “near great”; the L.A. that isn’t in the foreground, the one that is too often asked to sit, but don’t move. That’s the L.A. she moves through every day on foot.

“I get a notion. An image. A line of dialogue,” she said. “Or maybe it’s just a feeling I want to explore.”

To read more about Dana Johnson’s story collection click here


Image via USC|Dornsife

Claudia Rankine on White Blindness, The Black Body and the Freedom to Live

By Lynell George
via KCET | Artbound

On the American “stage” — within mainstream media and in public discourse — the discussion of race and racism is often defined by spectacle: an event that we can collectively point to that plays out on our screens, large and small. It might be the grievous roll call of black lives cut short by raw acts of violence; or it might take shape in next week’s headlines — a bungled arrest or denial of dignity — that eerily mirrors incidents of three generations ago.

While those high-profile, super-charged moments are indeed odious and shameful, they are indicative of a deeper malady affecting the American psyche, writer Claudia Rankine argues in her most recent book, “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

Often, Rankine notes, these high-profile conflagrations — New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, the murder of Trayvon Martin — are viewed with confusion or are categorized as aberration by those who don’t move through life with black skin. For those who navigate daily through fraught territory, the belief or assumption that racism is largely “behind us” is both a powerful articulation of privilege and a violent act of erasure.

To read the entire interview with Claudia Rankine click here.

“Writing himself onto the page”: The Letters of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes photographed in Harlem by Robery W. Kelley/LIFE

Langston Hughes photographed in Harlem by Robery W. Kelley/LIFE

MY REVIEW of Selected Letters of Langston Hughes is up at L.A. Times. The book was a deep long look into a writer’s life — the true hard work it took for Hughes to make a life for himself.

From the review:

Hughes took seriously his role as multifaceted chronicler, penning poems, short stories, newspaper columns, plays and librettos, but he was also a dedicated letter-writer who spent years asking after manuscripts, answering reader inquiries, advising old acquaintances, cultivating new ones. The assemblage would ultimately become “[s]o vast it could fill 20 large volumes,” writes longtime Hughes biographer Arnold Rampersad in his introduction to the new collection of Hughes’ correspondence, “Selected Letters of Langston Hughes,” co-edited with David Roessel with Christa Fratantoro.

Their resulting compilation — constructed as “a life in letters” — comes in at nearly 500 pages, meticulously footnoted and succinctly introduced by two contextualizing essays that fill in Hughes’ biography and outline their editorial process.

You can read more here.